Refugio – A Little Bit of Paradise

After spending Thanksgiving at El Capitan on the Santa Barbara Coast, we jumped at the chance to take another trip back down that way.  The Mister had an alumni event at UCSB and we decided to take the whole family down and camp for four days at Refugio State Beach.  We were going to meet friends there and have a reunion get together.  You know, relive those grad-school days.

BestView

So when The Missus came down with the flu the day we were supposed to leave, there was disappointment all around.  Were we still going to go?  What if the kids got sick?  A million what ifs were go through our heads.  The Missus was feeling a bit better the next day, so we decided to rally.  We had waited months for this trip and we were so excited to try out our new pop-up tent (we replaced the canvas), racks (we installed these in early April), and new stand up paddle board (to go with the racks of course).

Westy

The weather on Thursday night was gorgeous.  The kids had a great time playing on the beach with friends.

Beach Sunset

We played with the paddle board on Friday afternoon.  The Boy was not a fan.  He would much rather play with his boogie board.

Paddle Board

The Boy

We ended up having pretty crappy weather the rest of the weekend.  It was pouring down rain most of Saturday morning.  When the rain cleared, the wind picked up.  It was so windy we ended up packing up most of camp (it was blowing away), and hunkering down in The Westy for dinner.  It was the first time we were truly grateful for having The Westy in inclement weather.  It gave us a nice escape from the gusty wind.

Even with the rain and wind we were able to squeeze in a hike up the coastal bluffs. And play on the playground near the beach.  We even made it out to the tide pools.

Hiking

View from our hike

Beach Playground

Tide Pools

The nice thing about this campground is it is right on the beach.  Just a quick walk over and you are there.  It also has flushing toilets and showers.  They are pretty old and yucky, but this is a really high use park so it is to be expected.  It is a fun park, too.  The kids can ride their scooters on the paved road and it is a quick walk to another beach just south of Refugio.  A pretty amazing spot (even if the weather sucks).

Sunset at Refugio

We really lucked out that no one else go sick on this trip.  The Missus was back to herself by Saturday and the kids escaped the illness.  What more can you ask for?  So have you ever camped when you didn’t feel 100%?

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Exploring New Places – Lava Beds National Monument 

We decided to take a long weekend a head to Lava Beds National Monument. Located in the Great Basin Desert, it can get mighty hot there in the summer and freezing in the winter.  It’s one of those places a spring or fall visit seems the best bet for happy campers.
LavaBeds
It is a pretty long haul, so we stayed in a KOA in Shasta City Friday night.  The campground was super cute.  Dirt roads with camp sites set back in the pine trees. Flushing toilets and hot showers.  This is definitely someplace we will stay again.  We were in a rush Saturday morning to get to the Lava Beds, so we grabbed breakfast on the road.  Black Bear Diner is a chain of restaurants that have pretty good food. We stopped there for eggs and the kids dug the bear decore.
KOA
The drive into Lava Beds is pretty awesome.  You pass Mt. Shasta and cut across the Kalamath National Forest Wildlife Refuge and drive past Tule Lake.  There were so many birds in this area.  We saw three bald eagles and a ringnecked pheasant, not to mention a ton of waterfowl.  On your way into the park, you drive through ancient lava flows.  Scattered throughout is Great Basin Sagebrush, Rabbitbush, and various grasses.  It is a harsh but beautiful environment.
The campground at Lava Beds is set in a juniper-brushland.  Hands down, this is one of the prettiest campgrounds we have ever stayed in.  The juniper trees and scattered shrubs are so pretty and the campsites are set right under the trees.  There are cool picnic tables built into the rocks and fire rings at each site.  The campground really favors tent campers, but you can find a place for an RV.  The bathrooms are updated and really nice here and they have potable water.  One of the best things –  every morning deer would come through camp.  The kids loved seeing them up close.
Campground
MuleDeer
The Missus’s parents joined us on Saturday.  We spent the afternoon exploring the visitor center and Mushpot Cave.  It was a great introduction to the over 800 caves you can find in the park and it set the kids up for what to expect Sunday.
KidsBackpack
Sunday we borrowed flashlights from the ranger station.  The caves a dark – really, really dark.  Our little headlamps were not going to cut it so we took advantage of the flashlight loaning program offered at the ranger station.  The caves were amazing. They varied so much. Some were steep and deep and required you to walk along metal staircases (Skull Cave).  Others were wide and narrow and you had to duck down to avoid hitting your head.  The caves vary in difficulty so we tried to pick those that weren’t overly challenging for the kids.  I think the coolest thing about the caves was that you would walk right up up it and never see it until you looked down. They were so different from the caves we explored at Pinnacles National Park back in February.
Caves
CavesMetalWalkway
InCave
After lunch back at camp and a little quite time, we took off to explore Captain Jack’s Stronghold.  The Boy was really into Captain Jack.  The Girl and I were not so into the hike.  We were both suffering from post traumatic Snake syndrome.  The trail was perfect snake habitat; rocky and sandy.  I think we were flashing back to Pinnacles.
CaptainJack
Stronghold
Monday we loaded up into Papa’s car and took off for Glass Mountain.  It is a mountain covered in obsidian rock.  Unfortunately there was still snow on the road about three miles left into the drive so we didn’t make it to the mountain. Definitely something we will have to plan for our trip back to the park.  We ended up having lunch in Papa’s camper on the side of the road.  The kids played in the snow and we played the Jelly Belly Beanboozled game.  It turned out to be a really fun day.
Us
GlassMtn
Tuesday we woke up to cloudy skies.  Rain wasn’t in the forecast, but it sure looked like rain to us. We packed up quickly and just in time, too.  Just as we were finishing up, a wet snow started to fall.  Boy did we luck out there! With one last cave visit and a stop at the Ranger’s Station for a magnet souvenir, we were ready to head home.
What out of the way National Park or Monument do you enjoy visiting?

Oh Snakes! – Pinnacles National Park

Fourteen years ago, when the Mister and I were dating, we spent a summer weekend camping in the then Pinnacles National Monument.  Fast forward through a wedding, two kids, and new National Park status and we felt it was time to return.  The Missus’s parents met us there and we were excited to hike and explore the caves in the cool spring weather.  It was great way to spend Valentine’s Day Weekend.
Valentine
Westy
We hiked five miles the first day to Bear Gulch and Bear Gulch Reservoir Lake.  We were so impressed with how well both kids hiked.  The Boy out grew the backpack over the winter, so he had to walk the entire way.  He did so great.  The caves were a lot of fun and we enjoyed exploring them.  There were lots of fun staircases and little nooks and crannies.  We had a snack at Bear Gulch Reservoir before heading back to camp.
 Stairs
TheBoy
LakeII
Papa
On Sunday, we decided before we went home we wanted to hike to the Balconies – another group of caves – because we had so much fun Saturday.  The hike was six miles round trip.  The caves were a bit more difficult than those at Bear Gulch, but the kids still did great.
PinnaclesII
TheGirl
The last mile of the hike, The Boy finally pooped out so The Mister went ahead of the rest of us and carried The Boy back to the car.  On our way out, The Missus met up with a rattlesnake.  She was coming around a narrow curve in the trail and when she stepped down she heard the hissing and rattle.  She looked down and saw the snake, coiled and ready to strike.  It was very close to her foot.  Of course, she freaked out.  Screaming she ran the other way and ended up falling down a few granite steps and knocked The Girl down in the process.  The Missus knee was tore up pretty good.  The snake was annoyed and would not move off the trail.  We tossed a couple rocks at it (I know – dumb) and the snake decided to move toward us rather than away.  It eventually moved off trail and boy was it mad.  We hightailed it out of there as fast as could. Not our finest moment.
ThatHurt
Funny thing is that with all the hiking we do, we never run into rattlesnakes UNLESS we are at Pinnacles.  Both visits have resulted in a rattlesnake sighting.  Not cool Pinnacles.  Not cool. This did make us realize however, that we really need to beef up our first aid kit and have a better understanding of what to do when we do encounter wildlife on the trail.  The rangers surprisingly had little in the way of first aid and the cut was really deep.  We ended up taking a trip to the ER once we got back home.  A deep cleaning and a round of antibiotics made a big difference.
So do you carry a first aid kit? What are you essential first aid items?  We would love to hear what you carry as we build the ultimate first aid kit.

Wrights Beach – a Great Winter Getaway

Our goal for 2015 is to get out at least once a month with the kids and The Westy and nature.  The weather was pretty nice in January thanks to our epic drought, so we took off for the Sonoma Coast for the long President’s Day weekend.  We stayed at Wright’s Beach, a small campground located right on the beach.  The ocean is super dangerous here, so swimming was definitely out.  In fact, even getting near the water was out. I guess they have sleeper waves here.  The waves are known to sweep people to sea and they are deadly.  It didn’t really matter though.  The kids were content to play in the sand higher up on the beach.  They built sand castles, tried to fly their kites (there wasn’t much wind), and collected rocks.
Sand Castle
Beach
We had one heavily foggy day, but otherwise the weather was great.  Temperatures were mild and nothing beats sleeping next to the ocean with the lull of the waves to put you to sleep.
Campsite
CampsiteII
The raccoons were a nuisance.  You really had to keep things stored tight.  They managed to get into our ice chest and swiped our lunch meat and sunflower butter. The kids found it entertaining.
LogJumps
The family camping next to us, introduced us to Phosphorescent plankton that live in the rocks.  If you go out to the beach at night, you can find these microscopic creatures in the sand.  We ran a stick through the sand and they glowed. It was like looking at a million stars.  So amazing.  It was impossible to get a good picture.
waves
On our way home, we stopped at the Russian River Brewery company for an early birthday lunch for The Mister and a case of his favorite beer, Pliny the Elder.  We decided to plan a return trip to Wright’s Beach this summer and hit a couple breweries along the way.

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Do you plan trips around your favorite Breweries?  Have any breweries you think we should put on our must visit list?

Yosemite – Chasing Fall

The kids were finally better. We were so happy to get back on the road. We had reservations at Yosemite National Park. We hadn’t been since The Girl was two.

Half Dome

We stayed at Crane Flat Campground. It wasn’t in the Yosemite Valley but beggars can’t be choosers. Especially when you plan horribly and get reservations late in the season. The campground was actually really nice. Lots of trees and fun rocks. A little bit on the hilly side. Well, a lot on the hilly side. We really need to invest in some leveling blocks. There is nothing like figuring out how to sleep on a hill.

The fall colors were pretty elusive. We were a few weeks early. We did find one or two trees beginning to change but nothing notable. But really – you are in Yosemite. It is always gorgeous. Even the Rim Fire damage – although devastating – was beautiful in its own way.  The falls were a trickle but still magnificent. Just another reason to plan a spring trip. The Missus should get on that soon. Yosemite reservations are notoriously hard to get; especially in the spring.

Vernal Falls

We hiked to Vernal Falls with the kids. We didn’t make it to Nevada Falls. It got really steep and although we were pretty sure the kids could do it, we didn’t feel like we had enough food and water to combat any whining we might have encountered at the end if the hike. The kids had fun though and the falls were gorgeous.

Hiking

The weather was brisk during the day and just plain cold at night. We realized that if we were doing any winter camping, we were going to have to get the kids better gear and figure out a way to keep The Westy warm at night. The Mister was looking at heater options but safety is a big issue. We are also reluctant to spend a lot of money on gear for the kids. They grow so fast. Thermals are something we should really look into though.  Warm kids equal happy parents for sure! {Update:  We ended up getting the kids thermals for Christmas from REI.}

Bundled Up

Yosemite is one of those places where the beauty is extraordinary and every trip brings new things to see. Every time we go we wonder why we don’t frequent the park more often. We are already planning a trip back. Who knows, The Missus might even make reservations ahead of time!

The Westy in Yosemite

Westy in the Redwoods – Richardson’s Grove State Park

The Missus was back to work this week after an amazing summer off. She was cursing herself Friday night. Why, oh why did she plan a camping trip a week into the new school year? After an awesome weekend with the kids in the redwoods, she would totally do it again. Living the dream. Right?

Coastal Redwoods

We loved Richardson’s Grove State Park. It was super kid friendly. The Girl was a big fan if the flush toilets. It has been awhile since we didn’t camp with pit toilets. We hiked 1.6 miles with the kids Saturday morning. Awesome EdVentures hike. Fun little clues for the kids to follow. They had to answer a trivia question to earn a patch from the park ranger. So much fun.

EdVentures Quest

EdVentures Badge

We all napped in The Westy that afternoon. After a long week, it was needed. Great swimming hole on the Eel River. The Missus forgot swimsuits. That didn’t stop the kids from getting wet.

Swimming

While the Missus cooked dinner, the kids made friends with a little boy camped next to us. Loved how well they played together. All of us loved that it kept the kids entertained. The Mister was not excited to hear we were having chili for dinner. Umm, can you say easy meal planning on a busy week. Turned out to be really good and The Mister said he would totally eat it again.

Cowboy Chili

chili

We walked the interpretive trail with the kids on Sunday morning. Tossed a few rocks into the river and ate whatever food we had left for lunch. And yes – we enjoyed our camping Coke, too.

Interpretative Trail

Eel River

Rock Throw

We stopped and Confusion Hill on the way home. The kids had fun and The Boy dug the train ride.

Confusion Hill

Did we mention we decided to potty train him this week. On top of The Missus being back to work. On top of using a new babysitter. On top of going camping. Not our best in the way of planning. It went well though. Potty training and camping. Who knew?

Potty Training

Have you ever potty trained while camping?

A Rock and A Noodle

We had our annual camping trip to The Mountains with The Girl’s friends from play group. It’s our third year doing this. The kids have been friends since they were one. Now everyone has a sibling. It makes for a great weekend. Eight adults. Four two year olds. Four five year olds.  Lots of good times.

Friend Picture

The kids play hard.  We joke that toys really aren’t required.

Rocks

Not when they have a rock and a pool noodle. Hours of entertainment.

Hours were spent acting like kangaroos.

Hours were spent acting like kangaroos.

The ladies enjoy catching up. Now that the kids are getting ready for school, it is hard to get together like we used to.  Sometimes our catching up leads to an early morning pick me up and some Tylenol.

Morning Pick Me Up

The guys do guy things. Drink beer. Grill meat. Stuff like that.

Bacon

All in all, it makes for a pretty awesome weekend.

Tents

Do you have an annual camping get together with friends?